Ron Bates found the guns wrapped in plastic grocery bags and plastic wrap in a storage space at the bottom of the box.
Bates called the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office, who came and collected the guns. The case has been turned over to Manassas police, said Sgt. Marc Woolverton, Manassas police spokesman.
Bates said one of the shotguns was engraved, one old and the third unremarkable.
The oldest, a double-barreled gun, appeared to be from the late 19th or early 20th century, Bates said.
“It had really fancy triggers,” he said.
Bates said he was initially intrigued by the guns and handled one of them extensively before it dawned on him that they might be evidence in a crime.
“It never occurred to me that theses guns were all sawed-off and they might have been used [in a crime],” he said.
Bates picked up 28 machines Tuesday from storage inside the Manassas Journal Messenger office at 9009 Church St. and took them to Stafford for refurbishing. The machines had been in storage in the Manassas office since September, said Mark Golding, the sales manager for the Manassas Journal Messenger and Potomac News, which are jointly operated.
The machines were originally stored outside in a parking lot at the Potomac News office at 10410 Smoketown Road, Golding said.
Bates said the guns are the strangest things he has found in his five years of refitting, painting and repairing the newspaper boxes.
“The only thing I’ve found out of the ordinary was a plastic needle [syringe] and half-eaten lunches, but never anything like this,” the 55-year-old said.
Police do not have any reports of stolen or missing shotguns matching the description of those found in Stafford, Woolverton said.
“We don’t know, necessarily, if we have a crime other than that the guns are illegal [in length],” Woolverton said. Shotguns with barrels less than 18 inches long are illegal.